Subscription Based Serial Fiction: The Technical Problems

bluefirereaderWhen it comes to delivering serial fiction directly to the reader, Amazon has set the bar high. By operating the Kindle Serial Store, creating the Kindle device and rendering their branded ereading app ubiquitous across multiple platforms (iOS, Droid, etc.), they can take your money and deliver the product to your reading device of choice with one click. Booyah. And they will continue to deliver the serial installments every two weeks until the story has run its course. (Pay once, ie. subscribe, and the rest takes care of itself.)

If any storyteller is serious about monetizing serial fiction outside of the Kindle Serial Store, this high bar has to be the goal. Readers will demand it.

One Click Must Do it All! (But How?)

How does an indie writer attempt such a monumental technical and organizational feat? The most obvious solution to me was also the least practical: Create a specialized app of my own that will bridge my fiction onto every smartphone and tablet out there with access to Droid, Windows, or iOS app stores.

Since this requires a chunk of change upfront, as well as the determination to update the application continuously across all platforms… I quickly crossed this off the list of personal options. I don’t want to go into app development. I want to write stories from which I generate a living wage.

That leaves the indie writer/entrepreneur shopping for go-between services and trying to piece together a network to mimic the one Amazon has built. Let’s break down the necessary pieces: (and my preferences so far)

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Subscription Based Serial Fiction (Direct to Reader): Has the Time Come?

iphone-ereaderThe Holy Grail (for some) seems nearer to hand than ever before. The time is ripe, the technology is there. Storytellers since the beginning of time have been drawn to episodic narrative. Great characters demand repeat stories be told of them. And the audience loves to keep coming back for more.

Subscription and the Written Word

The most cunning and successful model for monetizing serial fiction has always been subscription. In recent history this was most evident in newspaper and magazine. The upfront promise of payment by consumers made the publication of the story possible, while the routine and regularity of the media delivered tantalizing snippets in a convenient manner. It was a win/win.

The times have changed. The desire to tell and enjoy good stories hasn’t. Television, and more recently platforms such as Netflix and Hulu, continue to emphasize our love of serialized and episodic story. When it comes to visual media, we consumers receive the best of both worlds–we can allow the storyteller to tease us along on a weekly basis, or we can gorge at the trough of story by watching multiple episodes until our bleary eyes explode.

But what about the written story? Web fiction has quietly been popular in small circles of readers for a decade. The Kindle Store created an epic shift in the digital storytelling landscape by breaking down the gates and trampling the gatekeepers. Now readers have more direct access to writers than ever before.

In 2012, the inevitable finally came to fruition when Amazon created an online store specifically for serial fiction. It became possible for consumers to pay a small upfront cost and then receive regular installments/episodes of serial fiction delivered directly to their kindle ereading devices or apps.

Amazon: The New Gatekeepers

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Writing’s Equivalent to Television

Family watching television in 1958Film is to novel what television is to…?

Okay, sorry for the bad SAT’s flashback. Your chances of getting into Harvard were ruined a long time ago (blame television or your parents, not me.) But seriously, I’ve been thinking a lot about this question.

The golden age of film has long been dead. Television has taken over as the true innovator of the visual story. We could all name our favorite examples of television shows over the last twenty years that have evolved the way we communicate, think and tell story. I won’t even start trying to make a list.

It has also been well established that film/movies often rely on novels as the basis of their story arcs. It is true that technically novels are difficult to crunch down into a few hours worth of movie, but feature films and novels both commonly endeavor to use the same sort of classic story arc–telling an entire story with a beginning, middle and end.

Sure, a television show must also have a sort of mini-arc with it’s own beginning, middle and end. These are often quite formulaic (CSI, Law and Order, X-Files, etc.) But television also has the larger seasonal and series arcs to play around with. Characters have several hours worth of opportunity to develop, change, grow, die and be born. Plots and subplots can appear, dive beneath the surface and reappear episodes later. Often times a television show can focus on a larger universe than a feature film.

Within the written word, what format of story-telling best matches the television format? And with the decline of film and rise of television will the novel step aside as well?

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